Judge Not

Leslie Rothenberg wasn't fit for the bench once before, and she's not fit now

"The note indicated that Judge Rothenberg believes the State Attorney should supplement their witness list and add an additional charge," the motion to disqualify her states. A seething Rothenberg once again agreed to recuse herself.

Furious, Rothenberg filed a complaint with the Florida Bar. "My major concern is the filing by Mr. Triola of a number of motions to disqualify the judge which have falsely accused the judge and/or the various prosecutors of misconduct," she wrote in her December 19, 1994, complaint.

The bar's grievance committee found Triola "did not act with reckless disregard to the truth or falsity but only in the apparent best interest of his clients.... In most, if not all, of the scenarios presented, the committee felt comfortable with the respondent's actions."

Rothenberg declined to comment for this column, sending a written statement noting that it would be "inappropriate" to do so prior to the selection. But in a 1995 Miami Herald story she claimed the public defender's office had declared war on her in an effort to drive her off the bench. "They were nasty, they were belligerent, they argued on everything," she whined. She also claimed to have won the battle, and that her court had one of the smallest backlogs of cases.

But the battles continued, and not just with public defenders. In 1996 private attorney Lance Stelzer accused her of misrepresenting the facts in a case. The judge claimed a defendant was pleading guilty to a probation violation when court transcripts showed he clearly was not.

In 2002 she was reassigned to the civil division.

People in the legal community tell me it is rare for judges even once to be forced to recuse themselves for displaying bias in a case. To have to do it as many times as Rothenberg has is a phenomenon, and shows repeated bad judgment on her part. And let's face it -- quality of judgment is the crux of being a judge.

What's disturbing about her insatiable desire for public office right now is that it looks like a political payoff -- that Rothenberg is being rewarded for running on the Republican ticket against Milian, whose maverick ways were not palatable to the GOP. When she quit her judgeship to run for State Attorney, she was hired by Joe Klock, managing partner for Steel Hector & Davis and a Republican operative who represented former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris during the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Rothenberg has shown she's willing to play politics at the expense of her judicial impartiality, so maybe Steel Hector is where she should stay.

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